Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Rep. Waxman: "Military efforts to influence Iraqi news coverage covertly should not be tolerated."

News from Rep. Waxman's offices:

Below is a letter Rep. Waxman sent today to Chairman Davis asking that the Committee investigate reports that the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to present positive images of the military and the U.S. mission in Iraq. The text of the letter follows:

* * *

November 30, 2005

The Honorable Tom Davis
Chairman
Committee on Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I am writing regarding a report in today's Los Angeles Times that the military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to run stories that present a positive image of the military and the U.S. mission in Iraq.[1] According to the Times, the "U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles ... since the effort began this year." The operation has been run entirely in secret and is "designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military."

In addition, the Times learned from a military official that the Pentagon has "purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece."

If these reports are true, they have significant implications that should be investigated by the Committee. As one senior Pentagon official told the Times: "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."

As you know, I requested in February that the Committee investigate growing reports of the use of "covert propaganda" by the federal government.[2] After some back and forth, we agreed to send a joint document request to several federal agencies seeking information about their contracts with public relations firms. At your request, however, we did not include the Department of Defense in the document request.

The new disclosures in the Los Angeles Times should cause us to revisit the decision to exempt the Department of Defense. According to the Times, the news articles are written by military "information operations" troops. These stories are then translated into Arabic and placed into Iraqi newspapers under a contract with the Lincoln Group. Lincoln Group staff and subcontractors do not identify the articles as originating with the military when they place the articles, sometimes posing as "freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets." The Times found that the stories produced under this program "read more like press releases than news stories," and "often contain anonymous quotes from U.S. military officials." One senior military official told the Times that, "[a]bsolute truth was not an essential element of these stories."

Military efforts to influence Iraqi news coverage covertly should not be tolerated. I hope that you will join me in requesting information from the Pentagon regarding this and any other military efforts to influence Iraqi coverage of the U.S. mission. To begin an investigation, we should request:

* All documents related to the creation and role of the "Information Operations Task Force" in Baghdad;

* All contracts - including the statement of work, task orders, and any modifications - issued by the Pentagon for public relations and media outreach in Iraq, including, but not limited to, the contract with the Lincoln Group to place articles in Iraqi newspapers;

* All deliverables produced under these contracts, including, but not limited to, any materials produced by the Lincoln Group and its subcontractors;

* Copies of all articles placed by the U.S. military or the Lincoln Group in the Iraqi media;

* Any documents related to the U.S. military purchase or control of any Iraqi media outlets, including television stations, radio stations, and newspapers.

I look forward to working with you on this effort.

Sincerely,

Henry A. Waxman
Ranking Minority Member

[1] U.S. Military Covertly Pays to Run Stories in Iraqi Press, Los Angeles Times (Nov. 30, 2005).

[2] Letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman to Chairman Tom Davis (Feb. 8, 2005).

(Well, the do it over here....why not over there?)

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